Why is this?
One reason is addressed by Paul in Philippians 3:12-14. In the New American Standard, it reads:
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.Paul is saying that he intends to keep moving forward in his Christian walk to fully embrace the heavenward call of God. It's his ultimate goal. To reach this goal he must “press on” – keep going, stay in the game, don’t quit. He uses the words “forward” and “toward” to describe his destination – it’s still ahead of him here, as it is with all living Christians today.
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Like a runner in a race, we can get tired along life’s journey and want to stop and rest. And that’s ok. Jesus told us we have to rest sometimes. But if we quit, we’re out of the race and will never reach our goal.
The “race” itself is tiring, but there is something in our lives that can make reaching our goals even more tiring, if not impossible.
Imagine this: You’re running your race. You can see the finish line and excitement wells up in you, urging you on toward the end of your run. But you’re so tired you can hardly run another step and, in fact, don’t seem to be getting any closer. You’re not sure why because you’ve trained hard for this race and you should be able to do this, but it seems so difficult now.
You look behind you and are surprised to see that your leg is tethered by a bungee cord to that of a huge elephant. No wonder you're tired! No matter how fast you run, the cord only gives enough to let you get close to the finish line, but not all the way. It is then that you realize you’ve been running in place, getting nowhere.
This is what our past can do to us. Paul knew this very well. It was Paul (then Saul) who held the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. What a shameful thing for him to have to live with! How could Paul now serve Christ effectively in ministry when he had taken part in the killing of those who believed in Christ before he did?
By “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” (v. 13)
Paul knew that if he dwelt on his past, he would be forever stuck where he was and not move forward to where God wanted him to be.
He chose to trust in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ for what he had done and move on. We also know that Paul had to trust Jesus for things that others had done to him in the past (read his ministry accounts). Paul had to forgive them and leave the situations in Jesus’ hands, allowing Jesus to provide healing for him while he continued forward in his Christian growth and ministry.
Paul not only chose to go forward rather than dwell in his past, he also chose to not try and do both!
A note in my Bible for this verse reads, “We have all done things for which we are ashamed, and we live in the tension of what we have been and what we want to be.”
Tension is the act of stretching or straining. When I read this, the following image came into my mind.
Like a big old elephant, our past weighs heavily on us, holding us back. But our goals and dreams want to lift us higher, soaring like an eagle. Living in the middle causes tension. We are attached by cords between the two, unable to follow the pull of our future due to the tug of our past.
Now, there are three things you can do.
You can keep living with the tension of holding on to your past while trying to hold onto your future and see how far you get.
Or you can experience a little physics.
An interesting thing about tension is that when an object is connected between two bungee cords and the force from one bungee cord is released, the tension is gone, and whatever is attached to the other cord will be launched in the direction of that cord’s source.
So, choice two is that you can let go of your dreams and passions and be launched back into your past, spending your life wallowing in self-pity over things you’ve done and things that were done to you, never reaching your goal.
Or, you can do as Paul did. Forget your past – let it go – and be launched headlong into your future.
If you opt for the third choice, the momentum of letting go will get you moving in the right direction, but you’ll still have to keep reaching forward.
Paul’s description isn’t one of an easy journey, just a rewarding one. There will be new things coming at you plus the temptation to grab hold of that cord to the past, but if you resist and keep pressing on, you’ll reach your goal… no matter what it is.